Viral fundraising: Kickstarter gives Auburn creators a fighting chance

By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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If you walk into Brian Roe’s workshop, chances are you’ll be greeted by a half a robot, swinging his arms, blinking his eyes and moving his head back and forth as he explains why you should donate money to the project to finish him.

His name is Roy, and he is quite the project.

Roy is an animatronic character created by Roe, a mechanical designer and owner of Roemotion Inc. Roe created animatronic puppets for the film industry – including the teddy bear in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence" – but moved to Auburn after the business started moving away from puppets and into computer graphics. But the animatronics bug stuck with him, and soon Roe was working long hours creating Roy.

“This is just my, ‘Jeez, I wish I could do that again fun to entertain myself,’” Roe explained.

He is building Roy using inexpensive parts created mainly from plywood he cuts with his own laser-cutter. He programs scripts for Roy using a computer, where Roe controls the 28 servos that make Roy move.

Roe found Kickstarter after a friend used it to successfully fund a project. The website invites people who have created a variety of things to post a video and explanation of their project. People can pledge to donate money to the project through Amazon’s payment system, and if the project meets its financial goal after a certain number of days, the payments go to the project. If it doesn’t, no money is exchanged and the project goes off Kickstarter.

Roe has 30 days to finish raising $8,000, and he’s more than halfway there. Those who pledge more money get more rewards – starting with $20 for a kit to build Roy’s finger yourself. For $100, you can build his hand, and $180 gets you an arm. An arm, hand and base costs $240. Eventually, Roe said, he and his pledgers will have the means to build a full animatronic Roy.

“The idea is that he will be an entire character head to toe,” he said. “He’s going to have legs, he’s going to have full motion of the arms, neck. Every motion that you would have in a person, I’m going to try to give him.”

Roe said people should fund his project not only because it’s fun, but also because it’s a great, relatively inexpensive way for people to learn about electronics, robotics and computer programming.

“I’m hoping to build a cool community around him,” he said. “Meaning once I get the kits out there and people start building him, get a website going, a community where we all work together and trade ideas and improvements.”


A children’s book of a different kind

Auburn resident John Paul Stanley is using his experiences as a bus driver for people with developmental disabilities as the inspiration for a children’s book, and hopes people will fund his efforts on Kickstarter.

The book, “Party of a Different Kind,” is about a bus driver taking a group of costumed kids to school, where they’ll attend a party. Roe, who drove for Mid-Placer Public School Transportation Agency and now for Pride Industries, said his passengers are creative, fun-loving and helpful – all qualities shown in the book.

“We go through a multitude of these little challenges along the way, and each time one of the passengers has a unique gift and inspiration as to how to help the bus driver get to the party of a different kind,” Stanley said.

That includes passenger Postal Pete feeding a hungry mailbox letters to take its mind off eating the bus, and Joel the Jock throwing his stinky socks at a family of skunks to get them off the roadway.

“I like to imagine these people who love to help so much be able to help in a real way,” Stanley explained.

He’s trying to raise $16,000 on Kickstarter to fund finishing the illustrations and create a DVD with a narrator and moving objects that parents can show their children. The rewards for pledging include a copy of the DVD and original artwork by Stanley, who holds a master’s degree in graphic design.

“My main goal in this project is to develop the DVD and get that out,” Stanley said. “I hope to also maybe have it up on YouTube later on, and in the process maybe create more interest for the book and in the end possibly get a publisher connected with it, or publish it myself.”


Kickstarter tips

Musician J. Ross Parrelli, an emcee who splits her time between New York City and her Auburn home, recently failed at her attempts to raise $8,500 on Kickstarter. The money would have gone toward recording and distributing a new CD, making music videos and paying for necessities while she’s on the Vans Warped Tour this summer.

While her attempt was un-successful, Parrelli sees it as a learning experience. She said now she’ll look for other sites that aren’t “all or nothing,” like Kickstarter, although those might come with stricter re-quirements, such as a higher percentage of funds raised go-ing back to the site (Kickstarter projects give back 5 percent of funds raised.) She offered some tips for artists using Kickstarter.

1. “It definitely requires a lot of participation, so you really have to promote,” she said. That means staying dedicated – she admitted that when she saw her funding probably wasn’t going to come through, she started to give up. Had she put in some extra effort in that last week, she said, the outcome might have been different.

2. “I would also make it very personal,” she added. Sending a text or email, or even making an old-fashioned phone call to talk about the project, could give people all the more reason to donate.

3. “Set a small goal,” Parrelli said. “Because if you go over, that’s awesome, but if you go under you don’t get it.”

Asking for money is hard, she said, and something she struggles with. But it’s an important part of the business, and sites like Kickstarter are a good way to learn how to push yourself as a self-promoter.

“I am a firm fan and believer in Kickstarter,” she said. “I love that there is an opportunity for creative artists to get the support they need without selling their souls.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.



Kickstarter, based in New York City, was founded in 2009 by Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler. According to Kickstarter, since launching, 2 million people have backed 20,000 projects to the tune of $200 million.

Learn more at To see Brian Roe’s and John Paul Stanley’s projects, set the location to Auburn.